Q & A: Bleak House with director David Glass

Posted on 15 August 2019 by Enzo

How did the idea of reimaging Bleak House come about?

I saw Mike Alfreds Shared Experience version back in 1975 and had also read the book. Theatrically speaking, it was inspiring as well as thematically a cracking great story. Back in 2015 I was asked by AUB to direct a production and I suggested doing Mike’s adaption. However when I spoke to Mike, he said there was no script so I decided to do my own highly physical production incorporating aspects of melodrama in a contemporary way. It turned out to be very different from Mike’s version.

What is your favourite scene or moment in the show?

Jo’s death is a heart stopper. The character of the street kid Jo was the reason that Save The Children was created. Also the moment that Esther recognises her Mother moves me deeply. I always tear up. 


Do you have a favourite character?

I adore Esther who is a beautifully melancholic and yet a hopeful portrait of a young women trying to find her identity in a world that is dominated by men. She is so contemporary. 

John Jarndyce is a wonderfully misplaced character, and Caddy and Guppy are two of the most dysfunctional and comedic of Dickens characters. And of course, Jo! His simply tragic story is in a way at the heart of the drama. As a director you have to love and be dispassionate at the same time about all the characters. Our job is not to tell the audience but to move the audience with the story. Let them decide.


Are there any similarities between the world Dickens depicts and the world we live in today?

Absolutely! I think Dickens remains one of the most relevant of English writers. His acidic take on the entitled class that still control this country is more relevant than ever. All the more after 11 years of Austerity and a Political Class destroying its own people. 


Bleak House in three words

Family. Legality. Hope.


Why should people come to see the show?

Well I’m the first to admit I have ‘made theatrical turkeys in my time, but I do not sell them’ This is a cracking great show that makes you laugh, cry and think. And its over in less than two hours.


What keeps you awake at night?

The climate emergency and the future of our young people.


Who are your heroes in life, and why?

Stanley Kubrick and Andre Tarkovsky are two of the greatest directors who have ever lived. There are many others but life is too short.


What’s the trait you most deplore in others?

Imaginative stupidity.


Which experience do you regard as the highlight of your career to date?

Watching 40 street children perform to an audience of 800 including the Mayor of Phnom Penh in Cambodia on the issue of child sex trafficking. 


How has working across the globe enhanced your own theatre practice?

I have been privileged to have taught over 100,000 people in 74 countries from street children to stars. Each one of them has taught me something. And of course my own teachers Lecoq, Grotowski, Alfreds, Boal and Gaullier. I see theatre as both universal and specific and as we are going through extraordinary changes all across the world. The fundamental themes of love, death and greed are again expressing themselves in vivid and powerful stories. I love all kinds of theatre and each story has its way of being told. And working across different cultures reveals many ways of expressing theses stories.


What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?

When I was doing a rendition of ‘Falling In Love Again’ in drag and I fell off the front of the stage into a grand piano whose lid then fell on me. I went off despite wanting to bury myself alive. 


One piece of advice you would pass on to aspiring actors?

Just keep going whatever anyone says.


What’s your dream for the future of David Glass Ensemble?

The Ensemble has just finished Tempest in Malaysia which was a huge hit, meanwhile I am directing the first iteration of Fight Club at East 15 Acting School. Next year is our 30th anniversary with a potential tour of Gormenghast one of the Ensemble’s most successful shows and I'd wish that This Changes Everything – our production based on Naomi Klein’s book about climate change – receives the huge audience that it deserves.


David Glass Ensemble
Theatre Building,
Bath Spa University,
Newton St Loe Newton Park
Bath, BA2 9BN
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